Workplace Health Issues Linked to Noise Exposure

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are more common among workers exposed to loud noise at work according to a CDC study published this month in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

Researchers at CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also found that a quarter of U.S. workers – an estimated 41 million people – reported a history of noise exposure at work.

NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. said, “Reducing workplace noise levels is critical not just for hearing loss prevention – it may also impact blood pressure and cholesterol. Worksite health and wellness programs that include screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol should also target noise-exposed workers.”

High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are key risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women. Loud noise is one of the most common workplace hazards in the United States affecting about 22 million workers each year.

NIOSH researchers analyzed data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey to estimate the prevalence of occupational noise exposure, hearing difficulty and heart conditions within U.S. industries and occupations. They also looked at the association between workplace noise exposure and heart disease. The analysis showed:

  • Twenty-five percent of current workers had a history of work-related noise exposure; 14 percent were exposed in the last year.
  • Twelve percent of current workers had hearing difficulty, 24 percent had high blood pressure and 28 percent had high cholesterol. Of these cases, 58 percent, 14 percent, and 9 percent, respectively, can be attributed to occupational noise exposure.
  • Industries with the highest prevalence of occupational noise exposure were mining (61%), construction (51%), and manufacturing (47%).
  • Occupations with the highest prevalence of occupational noise exposure were production (55%); construction and extraction (54%); and installation, maintenance, and repair (54%).

A significant percentage of the workers we studied have hearing difficulty, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that could be attributed to noise at work,” said study co-author Liz Masterson, Ph.D. “If noise could be reduced to safer levels in the workplace, more than 5 million cases of hearing difficulty among noise-exposed workers could potentially be prevented.

Masterson added,  “This study provides further evidence of an association of occupational noise exposure with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the potential to prevent these conditions if noise is reduced. It is important that workers be screened regularly for these conditions in the workplace or through a healthcare provider, so interventions can occur. As these conditions are more common among noise-exposed workers, they could especially benefit from these screenings.”